Kurdish Activist Wins Free Speech Case Against Turkey

STRASBOURG, France (CN) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that Turkey violated the rights of a Kurdish activist by not giving her a fair trial after her speech-related arrest.

The European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg, France.

Hatice Çoban, a member of the Democratic Society Party, a pro-Kurdish group in Turkey known as DTP, gave a speech in 2006 at a World Peace Day demonstration in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır calling for reform in how Turkey deals with Kurdish people.

After the speech, she was arrested for distributing terroristic propaganda and sentenced to more than two years in prison

Turkey banned the DTP in 2009, claiming it was too closely aligned with the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant political party that is often considered to be a terrorist organization.

Around 30 million Kurds live in a region split over Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. They have frequently faced oppression in all four nations.

During her trial, Çoban claimed that the police officers who attended the rally misrepresented her speech in court, portraying it to be inflammatory and violent, whereas she actually called for democratic and peaceful solutions. Media accounts at the time described her speech in similar terms and the court refused to address the discrepancies.

After her appeals were rejected, Çoban brought her complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. The Strasbourg-based court was created by the 1953 European Convention on Human Rights and hears cases on political freedom and human rights.

On Tuesday, the seven-judge panel unanimously found that Turkey had violated Article 10 of the Convention, which protects freedom of expression, when the court insisted on relying on the testimony of the police rather than considering other evidence.

“The domestic courts had not addressed the relevant arguments put forward by Ms. Çoban regarding the reliability and accuracy of the main item of evidence on which they had relied in support of her conviction,” the court wrote in a press release about the decision. The ruling is available only in French.

The judges found the Turkish courts “failed to satisfy the requirements of a fair trial.” The court ordered Turkey to pay Çoban 2,500 euros, or about $2,700, in damages within three months.

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